A career in jewellery design

 22 February 2012

Emma Franklin runs her own jewellery design business from her studio in Clerkenwell, London. She designs and hand-crafts all of her pieces using traditional techniques.

Emma Franklin is jewellery designer who runs her own business.
Emma Franklin is jewellery designer who runs her own business.

Getting into jewellery design

Emma was creative from a very young age. “Nothing inspired me more than Art & Design”.

She always wanted to make jewellery and began studying it in her Design & Technology class at A level.

Being your own boss is rewarding but extremely tough.

“My tutor was very cool and arranged some work experience with a jewellery designer. I created my own silver arm piece. Looking back on it now, it was rather a disgusting looking design, but I learned such a lot from this experience.

"I realise I have been very lucky to be so sure about what I wanted to do from such a young age. I specialised in Jewellery during my Foundation diploma course, always knowing that my goal was to study for a degree at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design.” (CSM)

Aside from talent, Emma thinks the key qualities needed for a jewellery designer/maker include:

  • enormous patience
  • a great eye
  • energy for the subject
  • passion for what you are creating
  • an open mind
  • a steady hand.

Qualifications for a jewellery design career

Emma feels that studying for a degree in Jewellery Design is the best way to gain the necessary skills and knowledge required for this specialist field.

“There are so many techniques that you need to know, and I wouldn't have known where to start without learning all of the skills during my degree course. I know this doesn't apply for all design disciplines, but it does for jewellery - for sure.  

"During my time at university I also learned to experiment and to push myself creatively. It was great to go a bit wild design-wise, because when you leave and actually have to sell things, you don't get that chance again.”

Many factors should be considered when choosing a degree course. It's highly recommended to attend one of the institution’s open days, to get the best idea about their staff, facilities, course outline, and even your journey to and from the location.

I don't want to end up just managing a business - that's not what I trained to do.

Emma was clear that she wanted to study in London. “I adore London, and the course I chose has a superb reputation. However, because of this, the competition for places is fierce.

"The jewellery course at CSM had small classes at the time. It is renowned for the quality of its graduates, so it made sense to apply.

"I did look at other degree courses, but many of the others on offer seemed to me to be slanted more towards crafts rather than fashion.

"For me, this course offered a great balance: teaching design with a fashion edge, together with great technical skills training.”

Building a career as a jewellery designer-maker

Emma set up her own business immediately after graduation as she always wanted to work for herself.

“Both my parents work in creative professions, and are self-employed. So they have always said I should be wary of taking this route...

"But they've always been managed their time and loved what they do, and I don't think I could work for anyone else.

"I love what I do. Though it's tough and wouldn’t be for everyone. I'm quite hard on myself I suppose.”

Creating hand-crafted jewellery pieces

"If you find an opening in jewellery design, stick with it."

Emma is clear that she wants to stay firmly in touch with the physical making of her pieces, continually honing her craft. She told us, “I have a small team but I generally do most of the making myself.

"Other than designing, making is a part of the process that I love. All of my pieces in the collection are made in solid silver, and some are plated with 22ct gold or black rhodium.

I also add other elements such as fresh-water pearls and black diamonds. I don't want to end up just managing a business - that's not what I trained to do.” 

Running a jewellery business

Emma sells her pieces online through her website, but personal endorsements are also a vital source of new work for her small business. “Word-of-mouth recommendations have been great for me.

"I’ve been commissioned to create many engagement rings and other orders through this. It’s been quite amazing really.”  

There have been tough times for many businesses, but Emma’s experience has been more positive. “I actually think that many people now want something that will last – and are looking for something special – so this has worked in my favour.”

Emma has found that there are many ups and downs that come with being your own boss. “Over-working is a pitfall. There are many other parts that come with running a business like essential paperwork which cannot be ignored –  I've tried.

"Putting everything that I earn right back into the company has been hard. I feel I am lucky, but I have also worked very hard to get established. It really is tough to create and make a success of your own company, and I have seen many others not survive.

"Although many people may be encouraged to do their own thing, there is just not enough room for everyone. Oh yes – and a big drawback is having my designs copied by bigger companies.”

Emma’s business is largely developing organically. “Obviously, I do plan ahead, but things change for me day-by-day. You don't know what's around the corner.

"I feel so fortunate, but I wouldn’t say I’m particularly business minded. And I have never done a five-year plan or anything like that."

The nature of Emma’s small company and her intention to remain personally involved in the hand-crafted elements mean that long-term plans and projections aren’t a big factor at the present time.

Advice for a career in jewellery design

"It really is tough to create and make a success of your own company, and I have seen many others not survive."

Emma is now very aware of how difficult it can be to get a foothold in this specialist field, so she advises:

"If you find an opening in jewellery design, then stick with it. It’s not the ‘cool’ thing to say, but I've seen lots of people work for a company and love it. Then set up their own business, only to find it just too hard.

"Being your own boss is rewarding, but extremely tough – and day-to-day not always glamorous.

"Having said that, if you really feel you have what it takes – then do it. It’s immensely satisfying and I love it.”

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